Contamination Areas

Groundwater Contamination

Groundwater in Washington County has contaminants above the established health risk limits in a number of aquifers. The contamination is generally of two types:
  • Contamination resulting from volatile organic or inorganic chemicals leaching from legal and illegal waste disposal and underground storage tanks
  • Contamination of nitrates in parts of the county resulting from certain land use practices and sensitive geologic conditions

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has put together a tool to help Minnesotans learn about contamination issues throughout the state: the Minnesota Groundwater Contamination Atlas. As of June 2020, the Atlas contains current and available data from active state Superfund sites. Washington County residents can search the map to view areas of concern for sites in the county with remediation programs.

Special Well and Boring Construction Area (SWCA)

The Minnesota Department of Health declared a Special Well and Boring Construction Area (SWCA), sometimes called a well advisory, for areas in which contaminants are found at a level that poses public health risks. The purpose of a SWCA is to inform the public of potential health risks in areas of groundwater contamination, provide for the construction of safe water supplies, and prevent the spread of contamination due to the improper drilling of wells or borings. The SWCA designation provides for controls on the drilling or alteration of public and private water supply wells, and the monitoring of wells in the area. Washington County has four Special Well and Boring Construction Areas:
  • Lake Elmo/Oakdale
  • Baytown/West Lakeland Townships
  • Lakeland/Lakeland Shores
  • St. Paul Park/Newport
In Washington County, Minnesota Statutes, section 103I.236, states “Before signing an agreement to sell or transfer real property in Washington County that is not served by a municipal water system, the seller must state in writing to the buyer whether, to the seller’s knowledge, the property is located within a special well and boring construction area."

See the Minnesota Department of Health Special Well and Boring Construction Areas to learn more information about each site.

Perfluoro-alkyl Substances (PFAS) in Washington County

Wastes containing perfluoro-alkyl substances (PFAS), also known as perfluorochemicals (PFCs), were disposed of by the 3M Company at the 3M disposal sites in Oakdale, Woodbury, and Cottage Grove, and the former Washington County Landfill in Lake Elmo. PFAS were released from the sites, resulting in contamination of groundwater and nearby drinking water wells. 

Additional information on PFAS contamination

In May 2017, MDH released updated guidance values for some PFAS, after review of data provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). State officials have identified additional private wells in the East Metro area (mainly parts of Lake Elmo, West Lakeland Township, northernmost Afton, Lakeland, Lakeland Shores, and Cottage Grove not served by city water) with water that exceeds the updated values, and they will also be testing many others. Private wells that exceed health advice will be provided an alternate water source. 

In addition, Cottage Grove, Oakdale, Woodbury, and St. Paul Park have a number of supply wells for their public drinking water systems affected by the updated values. All affected community public drinking water systems will be able to put in place interim measures that will provide drinking water at or below the new MDH health-based guidance. Cottage Grove in particular has made some temporary changes in their water supply system to ensure compliance with new health based values. 

If you own a well within the PFAS sampling area and it has not been sampled yet, you may request to have it sampled. The Minnesota Department of Health website has links to an interactive map to determine whether homes are within the sampling area and another link to an online form to fill out to request to have well water sampled

For questions or health related concerns, contact the Minnesota Department of Health a 
MDH HazHealth line – 651-201-4897 or

In February of 2018, the State of Minnesota reached a settlement agreement with 3M regarding PFAS, in a Natural Resource Damages lawsuit. See the 3M Settlement page for more information. 


VOC Testing in Contamination Areas

The Department of Public Health and Environment offers private well water testing for volatile organic compounds, including trichloroethylene. See the water tests page for more information. 

In response to the MDH guidance and the need to prioritize sampling being conducted by MPCA and MDH, the county has suspended PFAS testing until further notice.  

Nitrates in Washington County

Nitrates have also been found in private wells at levels that exceed the established health risk level of 10 mg/L. The majority of wells affected by nitrate contamination are found in Cottage Grove and Denmark Township, though high nitrates may exist in other areas, from localized sources.